Georgia State Still a Work in Progress Despite High Expectations

Posted by Tommy Lemoine on November 27th, 2014

Georgia State entered 2014-15 with unusually high expectations and national attention, especially for a Sun Belt program that hasn’t been to the NCAA Tournament in 14 years. Guards R.J. Hunter and Ryan Harrow landed on several Top 100 lists, Louisville transfer Kevin Ware was granted immediate eligibility by the NCAA, and numerous publications tabbed the Panthers as an eventual Cinderella threat. After being blown out by Iowa State in the Tip-Off Marathon and losing to Colorado State, though, those expectations – or at least that attention – may have cooled a bit, replaced instead by slight concerns about what might be missing. While the team’s 83-78 victory over Oakland on Wednesday probably won’t allay those concerns, it did make one thing clear heading into December: the Panthers can win games on talent alone against mid-major competition, but they are still far from a finished product.

Georgia State is still finding itself in 2014-15. (Courtesy: Georgia State Sports Communications)

Georgia State is still finding itself in 2014-15. (Courtesy: Georgia State Sports Communications)

There seemed to be a tacit assumption entering the season that Georgia State’s backcourt would automatically improve with Ware entering the fold, despite the loss of senior point guard Devonta White. The problem with that assumption – though understandable, considering his name recognition and high-major cachet – is that Ware is not a point guard, nor is he ready to be a consistent, impact player. In the loss to Iowa State, the junior scored just four points in 32 minutes and never really asserted himself in any noticeable way on either end of the floor. Wednesday was a much different story, as he poured in a season-high 15 points (13 in the second half) and made several big plays late, but he still had several very quiet, very tentative stretches. White, on the other hand, was a relied-upon playmaker who finished his career ranked third in school history in points, assists and steals; he facilitated, scored and was a major reason Ron Hunter’s club was 23rd most efficient offense in basketball last season. Although Harrow (21.4 PPG, 5.2 APG) has been very successful playing on the ball in White’s stead, the departing guard’s sure-handed production has been missed, and will continue to be missed, until Ware finds his place.

Another player Georgia State must cope without is forward Manny Atkins, who made the Panthers especially dynamic in 2013-14. At 6’6’’, not only did his deep range (43.3% 3FG) prove crucial in key moments, but he helped to spread the floor and open up penetration lanes for Harrow and White. Without another wing presence to compliment R.J. Hunter, Oakland was able to crowd the interior a bit more than they otherwise would have a year ago. Likewise, when Hunter has an off-nights from behind the arc – like he did against Colorado State – Atkins’ absence puts even more pressure on Harrow to carry the load. Both Atkins and White were consistent, double-figure scorers whose importance may have been overlooked entering 2014-15.

Lucky for the Sun Belt favorites, R.J. Hunter and Harrow are truly as good as advertised, and have the ability to carry Georgia State until Ware – or someone else – emerges as a complimentary weapon. On Wednesday, Hunter’s lights-out shooting (9-for-14 for 29 points) gave the Panthers a comfortable lead that even an impressive late run by the Grizzlies was not able to overcome. His size (6’6’’) and ability to shoot over almost anyone (especially at the mid-major level), along Harrow’s elite quickness makes for a 1-2 punch that should weather most storms on most nights in the Sun Belt. Likewise, junior forward Markus Crider (17 points on Wednesday) seems to be coming into his own down low, making for an important offensive compliment to Curtis Washington’s already-strong interior defense. Put simply, there’s still as much to like about Georgia State’s potential as there was a month ago – and there were flashes of it on Wednesday.

One entire month remains before Sun Belt play gets begins, so the defending regular season champions will have several opportunities to sharpen their blade beforehand. Among those opportunities is a pair of games against fellow Cinderella-hopeful Green Bay and a road contest at Old Dominion. If the Panthers win two or three of those tests, if Ware and Crider continue to emerge as consistent offensive contributors, and if the sometimes-lackadaisical zone defense improves, there is no reason Georgia State can’t be the high-major-slayer many had it pegged as when 2014-15 began.

Tommy Lemoine (250 Posts)

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